The DC television universe - what has gone wrong?
Travel back in time to 5 years ago and the only superhero TV show we had was "Smallville", the series that ran for ten seasons and that introduced us to a young Clark Kent AKA Superman. These days we are inundated with superhero shows, most of them from DC and on the CW network (Arrow, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash). We also have Marvel getting in on the act in the last few years with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and the upcoming Defenders.
One of the initial frustrations with Smallville was the "No tights. No flights" rule that the creators set for the series however that rule turned out to be a wise move with the show focussing on relationships and the teenage years of Clark Kent (Tom Welling). It was not until the very last image of the very last episode did we see Clark run towards the camera in that famous shirt-ripping move that revealed the "S" on his chest. Because of this, Smallville had a charm and engaged audiences for an amazing ten years from 2001 to 2011.
Arrow began life as a spin-off from Smallville with Oliver Queen having been a regular in the latter years of that show. Arrow set off in a new direction with Stephen Amell in the titular role. It's first couple of seasons focussed heavily on his back story. Now in its fifth season, the back story is still there but not as strong as before. It does however, continue to provide back-story and motivation for the Green Arrow. It keeps our hero grounded.
Then in 2014, The Flash joined the DC line-up on TV. Grant Gustin played Barry Allen, the crime scene investigator for the Central City PD who gets struck by lightening and who reminds us weekly that he is the fastest man alive. In Season one Barry's motivation revolved around the death of his mother and incarceration of his father, wrongly convicted of the murder. Reverse-Flash was the villain of Season 1. Jay Garrick was the villain of Season 2 and now Savitar is the focus of Season 3. If you have not seen the season 3 episode "I know who you are" then stop reading now as there is a big spoiler ahead.
Well, to be honest, it's not much of a spoiler because if you have been following the crumbs and clues since season 3 started you will probably already have worked out that Savitar is Barry Allen, a future Barry who looks more like Anakin Skywalker than the squeaky clean hero we have come to know.
I guess it's this lack of imagination in villains and so-called "big reveals" that the Flash has given us that makes this current unmasking so disappointing. In the next season, will Barry's dad Joe be revealed as Jack The Ripper? It would not surprise me. For this reason The Flash has become stuck in a rut, a formulaic rut that has started to disappoint. I'm almost hoping that Barry's fiancee Iris gets killed by Savitar. I'll put money on it that she won't. This is the big difference between The Flash and Arrow. With the latter show, they were not afraid to kill off the hero's mother in front of him. It took guts and shocked us but it brought real drama and motivation to Oliver.
For the last half-dozen episode we have seen Barry moping about, trying one hair-brained scheme after another to prevent the future death of his loved one. Each scheme back-fires and leaves Barry and us as the audience a little more despairing each week but for different reasons.
So, here's a plea to the writers of The Flash; please bring a new perspective to this show. Show us some human story-telling in Season 4.
The latest CW superhero show, Supergirl is in it's second season and its first on the CW network. As a less mature show than The Flash, it has explored more human stories than The Flash ever has. Yes, there have been the usual romantic interest, boy-girl and indeed girl-girl stories, Supergirl is not afraid to be imaginative. For example the season 2, episode 19 story "Alex" we see Supergirl/Kara's adoptive sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) kidnapped. Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) has to work with Alex's girlfriend Maggie (Floriana Lima) to rescue her. The story imaginatively pits two characters together who start out with an antagonistic relationship and along the way learn to trust each other to save the day. Supergirl broadens its palette of characters and is therefore refreshing.
So The Flash has lost its direction, its ability to tell compelling stories and fallen into the rut of retelling the same story each season. Each time the audience is way ahead of the story-telling. So what now for The Flash? It is a bright show and positive in its outlook, akin to Supergirl but where Supergirl has looked outward and explored the unusual, The Flash has remained stuck. It now needs a fresh perspective and a broader setting of both stories and characters. Look at how Arrow has refreshed and changed the core team over its five-year run. Arrow and Supergirl writers need to lend a hand.